The Ideas Man

Business Life Magazine, Provincial Media.

“Two ears, one mouth. Use them in that proportion,” writes television identity Russel Howcroft in his book, When it’s Right to be Wrong. Listening is a powerful tool. Listening to ideas, even better. Investing in ideas and creating them in the marketplace, if they work: Triumph.

As Enterprise Geelong’s feature event for this year’s Geelong Small Business Festival, Mr Howcroft will communicate his dexterous business-brain and no-nonsense viewpoints to an audience of local business owners. He’ll convey the power of ideas and the power of creativity for unprecedented profits. Sharing quotes from his book, we’ll hear phrases like, ‘Put the gloves on. Embrace debate. Be brave enough to change your mind.’ And my personal favourite, ‘Get yourself a writer’.

He’ll tell you why ideas are worthless, and why they’re everything.

Mr Howcroft earned celebrity on ABC1’s hugely successful The Gruen Transfer, yet

well before that carved fame in the advertising world leading some of Australia’s best creative agencies. As Executive General Manager at Network Ten and chairman of Think TV, he is an avid torch-bearer for television, self-confessed “last of the madmen” and an architect for intelligent, logical modern-day advertising.

Architecture, in the vibrant structural sense, makes for powerful advertising. The Geelong Library, Mr Howcroft says, is a commercial idea that is bound to drive increased visitation.  “We’ve seen it with MONA, we’ve seen it with Federation Square,” he says. “But perhaps the best example of all is the Sydney Opera House. If you think about that as an ad; wow, it’s pretty successful.”

Creative cities are prosperous cities. “There’s no reason why Geelong can’t be one of Australia’s great creative cities,” Mr Howcroft says. “It just has to want to be.” With paths already forged in fields like media, film, design, gastronomy, literature and music, the pillars are lining up.

Bricks in a city wall are small-business shaped. “I think part of succeeding is to have a bigger idea about your business,” Mr Howcroft says. “It doesn’t mean that every business fulfils the bigger idea, but having the bigger idea drives you to think about growth and about what drivers are going to create the growth.”

Being seen is crucial. Yet often, for small business owners, social media blurs the lines between business advertisement and personal voice. How do we drive a transaction between seller and buyer from online posts? Mr Howcroft’s chapter, The Museum of Me states, “We want everyone to look in our mirror,” and reminds us that Narcissus drowned because of his vanity.

“What is awesome about social media, or the digital world, is it provides the vehicle at a very low cost for small businesses to go to market,” Mr Howcroft says. “But I would also encourage people to think about not just being on social media. You know, the local press still has power. The local radio still has power. Having posters on the streets still has power.” Don’t forego the physical world.

“A lot of people think that they know how to write advertising,” he says. “Most people don’t. It actually requires a very skilful writer to create successful advertising. You need someone that knows how to do it. Looking at an Apple Mac and downloading a Getty Image and a typeface that we’ve all seen a million times is not actually creating advertising.” One of ten business tips Mr Howcroft offers at the end of his book is to, “Promote yourself with the highest ideal in mind.”

Being “advertarian” is being persuasive in an informing way, not berating. “Advertising people believe in civil liberty,” he writes, “and in the power of ideas to create behavioural change.” For more on “advertarianism”, ideas and creativity, attend the Geelong Small Business Festival. And to get a head start, get hold of Mr Howcroft’s book.

Now there’s an idea.

Did you know?

Austrian-born architect, Victor Gruen, pioneered the design of shopping malls in America. “The Gruen Transfer,” Mr Howcroft says, “was what was labelled as the design piece in shopping malls that transferred the browser into a buyer; the layout of the store which prompts you to buy. It’s a very clever idea in terms of the role that advertising plays in turning you into a buyer.”